Mental Health Research Seminar: “Bipolar Disorder & Suicidality” and “Books, Meaning and Hope”

Dr Robert Dempsey (Lecturer in Psychology & Co-director of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) blogs about a recent seminar on mental health-related research.


Rob presenting research at the CHAD seminar in November 2016

I was pleased to be able to present some of our ongoing bipolar disorder and suicidality research at a seminar hosted by Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health and Development, a collaboration between the University and local councils (Stoke-on-Trent City and Staffordshire County councils) which focuses on addressing health inequalities. We held the seminar for the second time at the Staffordshire County Council Buildings in Stafford in February 2017, with myself and researchers from the South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust presenting research to a mixed audience of academics, service-users, charity workers, public health staff and representatives from the local councils. (Click here for a write-up of the first seminar)

My talk presented some of the latest findings from our research focusing on understanding the experiences of suicidality amongst people with a bipolar disorder diagnosis, including the need to better understand the psychological pathways to suicidality for people living with bipolar disorder (especially to design appropriate interventions to reduce suicidality). I presented some findings from a new paper investigating the mediating role of perceptions of defeat and entrapment on the experience of suicidal ideation at a four month follow-up amongst a sample of people with bipolar disorder.

Our paper is the first to investigate the role of defeat and entrapment in the experience of suicidality for people with bipolar disorder, despite defeat and entrapment being key predictors of suicidality according to several key theories of suicide and being previously associated with suicidality amongst other groups (e.g. people living with psychosis and post-traumatic stress). Our findings suggest that a sense of ‘internal entrapment’, being trapped by your own thoughts and feelings, explains the relationship between defeat (a sense of low social rank) and suicidal ideation. Interestingly, ‘external entrapment’ (by social circumstances, for example) did not mediate this relationship, suggesting that there is a pathway to suicidality through feeling entrapped by your own thoughts and moods when feeling defeated – which makes sense in the context of bipolar disorder, where many people experience changeable moods and other symptoms which may not always be easy to predict or manage. One possibility is that the experience of bipolar disorder may be a defeating one for some individuals.

I also briefly presented some ongoing analyses into the role of perceived social support on these pathways to suicidality, which seem to indicate that perceptions of social support are important in reducing feelings of defeat and entrapment (prior to feeling suicidal) but not after someone feels defeated/entrapped. We are continuing to analyse this data, but it appears that perceived social support has a specific role in the pathway to suicidality suggesting that boosting individuals’ awareness of their social support resources may lower the risk of feeling defeated/trapped by their thoughts, feelings and current circumstances.

Our defeat/entrapment mediation paper is currently in press and we hope to publish further articles on our suicidality data in the near future:

  • Owen, R., Dempsey, R., Jones, S., & Gooding, P. (in press). Defeat and Entrapment in Bipolar Disorder: Exploring the relationship with suicidal ideation from a psychological theoretical perspective. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

It was also pleasing to hear about some service-user led research into the role of ‘book indexclubs’ for individuals in recovery from various mental health conditions. Dr Joy Thorneycroft and Dr David Dobel-Ober talked about how these book clubs were co-produced between service-users and healthcare staff and aimed to help support service-users in recovery and post-discharge from trusts. Joy and David’s talk included some very interesting qualitative data about the challenges and benefits associated with running these groups, including good practice for running other co-produced groups in the future. What seemed particularly important was that the book groups were informal, unpressured (in terms of having to read a certain number of books per month), and were run in a ‘non-mental health’ setting (i.e. a local library). Their evaluation of these groups suggested that they were particularly helpful with boosting the attendees’ self-confidence and social interaction, if not with more specific issues like concentration difficulties associated with the experience of and recovery from depression.

Both talks highlighted the importance of social support and interaction for improving mental health outcomes and recovery – irrespective of whether support is perceived or based on actual, in-person interactions with others. Giving opportunities for social interaction for those experiencing an ongoing mental health issue, and reinforcing their available support resources, may be critical for improving mental health outcomes.

Staffs-Uni-Hi-Res_45-1024x683The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is a hub for research excellence for psychology research at Staffordshire University. The Centre is a lively and active research community, including established academic researchers, early career researchers and postgraduate students. The Centre runs a regular series of public engagement events, including research seminars and Psychology in the Pub talks which are open to the public (click here for more details).

The Centre houses experts from a variety of psychological disciplines, including our renowned Centre for Health Psychology, and offers Postgraduate Training in Research, including Applied Masters by Research courses, MSc in Health Psychology, MPhil/PhDs, as well as taught Professional Doctorates in Health and Clinical Psychology.

For more information or details of the wide range of Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit our website and our courses page.